Last February, I found myself listening to Touché Amoré’s Stage Four like it was water for my defeated soul. I felt selfish relating to an album that’s so obviously about the heartbreak of death while all I was feeling was the heartbreak from a breakup, but grief can take many grizzly forms. Grief can hit you when the person is still alive. In my earlier years, I found myself magnetized to songs drenched in sickly, sad emotions. If I was down on my luck, I’d listen to The National, Elliott Smith, Joy Division, Nick Cave, Pity Sex, and the like. This time around, those songs didn’t click as much as Stage Four did. I was angry, aching for a physical release, and Jeremy Bolm’s loud vocals were exactly what I needed. Somehow, anger felt more powerful and respectful to myself than pure sadness.
“I’m heartsick and well-rehearsed…” shouts Jeremy Bolm, and immediately I found the connection and relatability that I was trying, and failing, to find in breakup songs. I remember feeling heartache, of losing something you love, someone you love, and trying to act normal. I kept my head above water for so long, but my body was aching for submission. Pushing through the pain with a collected face wasn’t fulfilling or healing. What I needed was something louder and more visceral. I realize now how much I needed to feel angry.
I let the fire wash over me for months after. With every passing day the flame grew smaller and the pain settled. It also helped that I found a new love, one that was exciting, sweet, and most importantly—healthy. We bonded over music, exchanged playlists, talked about bands we thought no one else liked and what they meant to us. Months later, he would tell me he’d think of me any time he heard Touché Amoré. Charmingly enough, the band announced an anniversary tour where they’d be playing Stage Four in its entirety. It felt cosmic and perfect to listen to an album so important to me with the person I loved most in this world. It felt whole and so beautifully cyclical. I thought of how riddled with sadness I was the year prior and how perfectly happy I felt now. This arc of emotions felt like fireworks in my chest. Unfortunately, as is the nature of grief, this arc would repeat itself.
The death of a relationship is peculiarly painful. The person you’ve lost isn’t gone forever, but there’s the dread that comes with knowing their world continues on without you. As someone who has rarely felt anger in her life, I surprised myself with the insurmountable rage I felt towards this breakup. I never expected grief to come with such fury. I remember thinking that if something devastating happened to me, like the ending of what I thought was a perfect relationship, I’d hide under the covers forever, maybe move away. When it happened, I discovered that grief isn’t just a puddle of tears, but also a seething anger. It’s why’d you leave me, it’s how dare you leave me, it’s you promised you’d never hurt me, it’s fuck you, it’s good riddance, it’s please come back, it’s God take me from this Earth, it’s I believed you when you said you’d love me forever. It’s a million questions leading to dead ends.
It’s curious that it’s more acceptable to write a song or make art about grief than it is to make a post saying “People say that with time it gets easier, but I just think that they are wrong.” The former will grant you accolades, the latter will grant you judgment, yet they’re the same thing. Experiencing grief publicly is a fine and shaky line. If you’d have taken a CAT scan of my brain, you’d have seen my entire brain lit up, neurons firing every second trying to understand why my life had been flipped upside down. What you wouldn’t find on that scan is any sort of care about how people saw me process my grief. If I bled in front of everyone, it wasn’t so much for attention as much as it was just the truth of what was happening to me. I’m not a public person, but everyone exists in a community with enough of an audience to take note of even the smallest of changes.
I wanted the brutal honesty that came with pain and it’s why I found so much solace in albums like Stage Four. To recover from pain, I truly believe you have to look at all the nasty, grotesque issues in the eyes. Problems don’t disappear because you turn your back on them or pretend to start anew. If you want to patch up all the incisions, you have to submit. It’s not easy by any means and it’s entirely frightening, but I knew I needed the honesty to feel better. I didn’t care much about positive adages and hopeful messages. I knew I’d be okay because everyone recovers eventually. What I wanted was to release all the pain inside of me. Not only had I lost someone, but I was betrayed and damaged by that person. I had conflicting emotions of still loving this person and also wondering why he managed to break every single one of his promises to me without so much as a single ounce of remorse. His oaths of loving me forever now felt riddled with dishonesty. His words now felt unstable. Thinking back on his promises felt like gripping onto a rose. Was I holding the soft petals or puncturing myself on the thorns? Emotions like these don’t go away overnight and they aren’t soothed by empowering breakup songs. I didn’t want to “glow,” I needed to burn.
In line with my fire, I found resonance in the song “Rapture” when Bolm sings “someone you love is gone / it leaves you fractured.” It’s true that although I can rationalize the benefit and growth that comes from a breakup, it doesn’t leave me any less scarred. True love isn’t poison and it isn’t walking on eggshells—it took me a while to learn this. Despite realizing this person wasn’t for me, I still had an immense amount of genuine love for him. The bulk of our relationship was illuminating, soft, safe, and whole. As he’d often say, we felt like two puzzle pieces and it felt like a miracle that we had found each other. I couldn’t let go of that love so easily, I don’t think anyone can. I’m human and it hurt to be left behind by the person I put so much faith into. It wasn’t so much that I gave him power over me, but that this was the normal reaction to a betrayal so huge. A week after our breakup, I saw a photo of him and a friend of mine embraced in a way he and I used to be, smiling in a way I hadn’t been able to for weeks. I had to pull my car over to the side of the road, buzzing with fury, crying with disappointment, and shot with betrayal. Once again, I wasn’t giving him power over me, I was human and felt fractured. The honesty in the song hurt me and healed me all at once. It’s why ordinary breakup songs didn’t do much for me. Yes, I am strong and better off, but yes, I also feel decimated to some degree. Those two feelings can coexist.
In the song “Posing Holy,” Jeremy Bolm sings “It’s a rite of passage/ It’s a torch to carry/ When you feel the damage/And it’s extraordinary.” Grief comes for everyone. If you’ve lived your life fully enough, you’ll experience profound amounts of love, but just as much loss. I’m human and full of emotions, easily breakable and fiercely resilient, and deeply proud of all of this. I laud the honesty and rawness that comes with baring your soul on a record like Stage Four but also wish baring your soul wasn’t a courageous thing. Loss is inevitable, processing your grief is necessary, love will always be there, there’ll always be a soft web of community around you, anger can feel empowering, and sometimes all you need is forty minutes to listen to this record all the way through to feel this all at once.
Though I often sit in my car, unpoised and riddled with a feeling of unfairness, I realize I’m going through an experience so wholly destabilizing and yet so wholly natural. I’ll carry this torch full of extraordinary damage for a while, battered and a little broken, furious and a bit relieved, all the way to the end. It’s a part of the human experience that’s unfortunate, ugly, unpredictable, and so incredibly normal.
Article & Artwork: Evelyn Flores
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